June 29, 2013

Recycling handbills stuffed into our Daily Newspapers

I get three newspapers at my doorstep each morning. And on the weekends, a few more. The latter however are the freesheeters of our neighbourhood, a concept that we instituted some two decades ago.

My life and my work revolves around news and information. And anything to do with news.

It is a good habit that grew on me from the time my Dad subscribed to The Mail, that popular eveninger of our city that is no more.

Reading the three dailies takes time and is worth it. But all of us who buy these dailies also have to contend with the handbills and notices that are packed between the printed pages.

What were mere rags, printed on dirty paper in single-colour are now glossy multi-fold brochures and producing them in their thousands must cost a pile.

On weekends, my dailies grow in weight by at least a quarter of a kilo, merely because the handbills are not only many but many of the same are stuffed in between.

From the local veggies store to the new salon, from promoters of apartments in Madambakkam to fixers of mosquito nettings, the variety that spills from my dailies are a torrent.

I do look at these fliers closely. Anything is of some value if you are the sort who looks closely.

In the neighbourhood where I live, the local restaurants are very aggressive with their narrow advertising.

Many of them now provide us with their entire menu card. Recently, ‘Ente Keralam’ restaurant shoved in its home delivery menu.

On a lazy recent Sunday, the single-colour menu card of a new restaurant caught my eye. More so since it claimed to promise the best seafood cooked the Kanyakumari way. My order was placed and it arrived well on time. But I am not giving it even 4/10 and hence, will not want to get back to this restaurant.

What I do go back to every morning is a gunny bag. For, after I have done with the daily newspapers, I carry the handbills and dump them in one place, to be sold off a waste to the raddiwallah when he drops by.

Can you imagine the amount of handbills waste we contend with in our homes every morning?

We may have to live with such advertising as long as it pays the people who pay for it. But there seems to be a need for a sustained effort to store and dispose the bills in a more organised manner.

We have heard of the online-driven Kuppathoti group which makes it easy for people to get rid of unwanted stuff.

Is there something we need to do to recycle handbills?

Listen to the audio post here >>>

June 22, 2013

Portuguese San Thome and Madras Day 2013

Paolo Aranha and Vera Domingues are two research scholars based in two European cities who are encouraging a small group of us interested in the Portuguese histories of Madras.

Paolo, now in Munich has done some work and published a paper or two on a subject that has links to San Thome. Vera was here recently to walk around and talk to people in order to enrich her own research.

Vera who is based in Portugal has mailed three maps of San Thome de Meilapor which look fascinating but will send me on a crazy chase if I was to start using them.

But use I will once Vera shares a few more maps and I try to draw a trail of the dozen or more churches that existed in the Portuguese fort and outside it.

That and more will take some time in the making.

The maps and other material and Paolo’s Facebook chats are also providing me the base for a small event that I wish to time with this year’s Madras Day celebration.

A decade ago, some of us floated the idea of the Madras Day to celebrate the founding of this city. We chose a day - August 22.

And we decided that any event focused on the city would be created, planned and driven by people of this city.

10 years ago, we hosted a Walk in the Fort and ran a series of events at Rajaji Hall, once the Banqueting Hall of the British era.

When it all ended that launch year, well after 9.30 p.m. my colleague Sashi Nair and I who drove these events were exhilarated and exhausted.

Today, over 100 events are held during Madras Week, and these are hosted by many people and groups.
This year the focus is on to encourage more communities in areas which have not held such an event to ideate and drive one.

After all, a Madras Week celebration is complete only when different communities in different areas celebrate it in a way they think is best.

And it can be simple and straight.

Let me share last year’s wonderful effort of a bunch of women of Sowcarpet.
The idea was simple - a Food Trail in their area. There are lots of snacks stalls in that region. All of them offer north Indian specials. And the group know most of them.

The idea was picked up and the group drew up a route. Six shops, six stops. Five guides, 3 volunteers.
And the Mint Food Trail attracted over 40 people.

So the call is going out to you and to your friends. Focus on an idea that makes this city. Draw out an event. Tell your friends and their friends about it. Make it happen.

The buzz is being shared at a web site. You can find it at www.themadrasday.in

Listen to the audio post here >>>

June 15, 2013

Padur Lake, Marina Beach: Is the Community in?

If you travel down Rajiv Gandhi Salai, still known as OMR or Old Mahabalipuram Road you will come across a few scenic places.

Places which have survived the development of IT parks and gated community projects.

One such place is in Padur, once a sleepy village. Padur's biggest natural asset is a lake.

A decade ago, people had bought two or three ground plots on land fronting this lake for as little as 20 thousand rupees.

Those who were prospecting for land here would have to get off the OMR, drive through the small village and land up at the open grounds, once fields. A college had just begun to come up. That was it.

Today, the village is all but gone and on the waterfront are large houses you can see from as far as the East Coast Road side.

Padur Lake has been facing a slow death. Encroachers have come in. People answer nature's calls. It is a dumpyard for locally generated garbage and a washing space for hired lorries.

Of late, I have been reading a bit about the lake at a blog that my friend G V Krishnan publishes. It is titled 'OMR Resident',

Krishnan, who last worked for the Times of India is spending his retired years furiously blogging on local news and issues of his neighbourhood - the far end of OMR.

Of late, Krishnan and his neighbours have been walking on the lakeside and have appreciated its value for a growing neighbourhood. They have also realised that this water body is getting polluted because it now serves as an open air toilet for a huge number of migrant workers. These people work on the massive buildings on the OMR and they do not have proper civic facilities.

Addressing such issues much before romaticising about a wonderful lake is now on the minds of Krishnan and the OMR Greens, as the group is called.

One small step that they intend to take is to sensitise the community in apartments to the existence of the lake and the need to conserve it. For, the lake belongs to all.

Who does the Marina Beach belong to?

Touted the second longest beach in the world, it seems to be everybody's beach and nobody's too!

It needed a man to go to the High Court here to get the Chennai Corporation, the city's civic body to address the issue of rampant hawkerisation of this beach.

Thousands of hawkers eke their living on this beach. They sell ice cream and fried fish, chips and corn, bajjis and sundal. Hawkers are an essential part of an open space like the Marina.

But it is shocking to see that neither the state nor the civic body addresses the issue of orderly hawking.

Retiling the pavements and planting hghmast lamps is easy. Maintaining the sands and the waterfront is tough. Would getting the beachgoers involved help?

The walkers and volleyball players, the fisherfolk and hawkers and the legions of beach cricket players. Can each be given a stake in the Marina's life?

This is the time to get the community involved. If the hawker zones come up, can we keep the waste and the plastic just there? Can we fine those who dump bottles in the sand and throw plastic sachets in the water?

 (G V Krishnan's blog is at - www.omrresident.blogspot.in)

Listen to the audio post here

June 08, 2013

Building local histories

My scrapbook of notes and pictures got a little bigger last week after a trip to Egmore.
A couple of friends, all schoolmates were catching up at our hangout - Charms Dress Makers, It sits in a narrow nook in a rundown building off the Adithanar statue roundabout near Hotel Ashoka.
The Charms family studied at St. Anthony’s Anglo Indian High School here. So the space outside this famous dress maker who has dressed up four generations of people, mostly Anglo-Indians has been a convenient place for many old boys and girls to meet up.
But that won’t happen anymore. For, the old building which had a nice façade at this roundabout is to be demolished to make way for a new project.
On the evening of our recent meeting, I walked around, looked up and closely at it, and at the shops and the people they held and took some pictures.
The school’s neighbourhood which is called Pudupet was also a part of our growing up days.
If Charms was a hangout, there was also Kamala Stores where we bought stationery and small gifts, there was a pharmacy we turned too if we nursed a cold or faked a fever.
And then there was Pantheon Café. We were regulars at the café and all we could afford then were idlis soaked in great sambhar provided by this hotelier from Palakkad.
For the cricket crazy in our lot, the game was played fiercely on a ground behind this building, at the rear of Munawar’s palatial bungalow which had a history of its own.
Living here was a well-known Muslim family of the Madras of old.
Personal histories and records of colonies are as important as histories of cities and nations, of movements and great people.
Sadly, we do not have a facility that can trigger and sustain such record keeping.
It can be easily done locally.
All we need is a bunch of volunteers interested in their place and the community, simple accessories like cameras and recording devices besides pen and pads and seniors who can sift through materials and keep them in some order.
A school, a library, a children’s centre, a temple office . . . can easily be spaces for local histories.
Recently, young Kartik who started Sri Chakra Library in West Mambalam shared his story about his enterprise, his passion and the hiccups that he was facing.
I suggested the local histories idea to him. Mambalam and its western extension is one of the older neighbourhoods of this city.
Imagine the pictures we can collect - pictures of wedding processions, temple fests, social meets and the like. Pictures we can cull from photo albums and dusty cupboards.
Imagine the stories we can record - audio recordings of seniors who built a house in the 1960s and have lived here since.
Writer Ashokamitran can share lots of West Mambalam stories I guess. So could any West Mambalam senior.
If you make a start in your own area, I would like to hear from you.

Listen to the audio of this post here.

June 01, 2013

Create School History Museums on Campus

A fortnight ago, I bid goodbye to the lady who was my first English teacher.

Her end came quietly and after she had completed her assignment here.

Attending the funeral Mass at St. Luke's in Anna Nagar even as the busy neighbourhood opened its doors to work and business around the Tower Park was my way of saying thank you to a guru who had a bit to do with what I am today.

Ms. Devotta hailed from the southern coastal town of Tuticorin and was among the early residents of Anna Nagar, settling down before the neighbourhood was populated with houses and bungalows.

In the classroom, she gave life to Shakespeare's plays and helped us sharpen our essay-writing skills.

Her tips and encouraging remarks helped me gain confidence in my writing. Much later, at a school alumni meet she was glad to know more about my publishing ventures.

How do our schools and colleges remember the contributions that teachers make?

I guess we realise the value of their work much later in our lives. School managers would certainly value it much earlier. How then do managements and alumni respect the memory of their teachers?

While reporting alumni meetings for our neighbourhood newspapers, we do find that many alumni groups make it a point to invite their 'old' teachers, honour them at the event and even share a purse if the person is in need of it.

I often wonder if our celebrated schools with long histories behind them cannot develop a campus history space.

A room or a corner in the lobby which showcases school uniforms and badges, report cards and trophies. A Hall of Fame of outstanding students and a Roll of Honour of all teachers and school principals.

This is the space which can make the current generation well informed and proud. And help a school showcase its history.

Last week, when an 'old boy' of St. Bede's came by to give an obituary note of his mom and we got to know that he also served in the school's Old Bedeans Association (OBA) I used the occasion to encourage him to launch the social history space.

Many schools  like  P. S. and St Bede's, St Raphael's and Vidya Mandir have great histories and these may well be showcased on campus.

     Listen to the audio version of this blog post here ...